Now, it’s Joel Ward’s turn.
Five days into training camp, it’s still unclear which winger will start the season on the right side of Alex Ovechkin’s line. But Coach Bruce Boudreau hinted that he’s getting closer to making a decision.
He just isn’t saying which way he’s leaning.
“I don’t know if it’s wide open,” Boudreau said. “I know in my mind who I’d like to see have that position. But it hasn’t been taken yet.”
If the lines in Thursday’s practice were any indication, Ward will skate alongside Ovechkin and center Marcus Johansson when the Capitals face the Blackhawks in Chicago on Friday night.
“He reminds me an awful lot of a younger Mike Knuble,” Boudreau said of Ward, who scored 10 goals last season in Nashville. “Maybe he doesn’t have the touch that Knuble has around the net. Or hasn’t proven that he has that touch yet.”
Ward, meantime, sounded like someone who expects to get multiple opportunities to play with Ovechkin this preseason, adding, “It’s going to be a lot of fun, for sure. I’m hoping we gain some chemistry in the games and he won’t get too upset with my play.”
Knuble is the incumbent, having spent the majority of the past two seasons skating with Ovechkin. He reiterated that he doesn’t plan on handing over that job easily. Knuble skated with Ovechkin the first three days in practice and again in Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Predators on the sloppy ice in Baltimore. He also made a strong opening statement Saturday, blowing away the competition in the conditioning test.
“You should never be content as a player,” Knuble said. “You should always want to play as high as you can, as well as you can, you want to play with the best players you can. It’s just up to your play and the results that you get.”
Brouwer, though, may be the most intriguing option. If he and Ovechkin play together, that would give the Capitals two of the NHL’s heaviest – and prolific – hitters on the same line. As I mentioned in a previous post, Brouwer ranked fifth last season with 262 hits, while Ovechkin was 10th with 241. Boudreau, however, may have to wait to see them together in game action because Brouwer (offseason shoulder surgery) won’t suit up until next week at the earliest.
“When you dump the puck in, D-men are not going to be very excited about going to pick it up if they see 200 and whatever [pound] Ovi, and 215-pound me, coming at them,” Brouwer said. “It’s just no fun for D-men. So they are going to be a little more reluctant to go and pick up the puck. It creates more offensive chances for us.”
Boudreau said the lines will begin to shape up Sunday after the next round of cuts.